Founder member of LAMPS Collective Chris Matthewman tells Jo Duckles his story of growing in faith and developing into a Christian children’s worker and performance artist.
I met Chris in the Abingdon home of Julie Kemp-Harper, a key member of the LAMPS team who is working hard to help make the collective’s future a success. We meet in early Lent and Julie provides coffee and hot cross buns as Chris tells me of his early experiences of church as a boy growing up in Leicester.
“I was brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition of church-going. My mum was devout and as a youngster she took me along to church.” While admitting that traditional church didn’t float his boat, Chris says he was always spiritual.
“I remember talking to God candidly as a very small child. I never stopped believing that God was real. When I was eight or nine the minister of a classic evangelical church moved into our street. He spoke like the Revd Ian Paisley and would bang his fists on things.”
Going along to the evangelical youth club when he was 12 or 13 meant playing football for most of the evening, and finishing with a five-minute thought for the week from the Bible.
“I don’t know what led to it really but I remember being in bed one night and saying ‘Jesus if this is real I would like to be part of it’. It was about a year later when I had a profound religious experience. I was filled with the spirit. It was a proper experience of God and that sold me on everything faith related really."
"I think if you were brought up to believe in God, or the idea of God, it makes sense to you and puts your faith in a certain place. If you have that experience of God where you realise it really is real then it does give you a good foundation for life. Whatever else is going on in the world at least I know that God is good, real and not just an absentee landlord.”
One of Chris’s many passions as a child was performance. “There was a church drama group I became a part of and they did sketches from Riding Lights in the church. I’d always been a performer, that was part of who I was and was merging with the deeply religious part of who I was.”
Doing well at GCSE Drama Chris decided to leave school at 16 rather than continuing to study for A Levels. “I felt I would be better off working. I did various jobs and at 18 I did my first year at Bible college out of a sense of feeling called to something. I knew a young feller who had also been to Bible college and had a lot of respect for him.” Lots of youth and children’s work followed, before three years at theological college.
In 2003 Chris became involved with the Pais project, looking after their children’s and schools work. Pais Project is a global, non-denominational group that creates partnerships between schools, community projects, businesses and churches. It was here that he developed his one-man shows under the performance name The Postman. He is known for his one-man version of Scrooge and I’ve Lost My Sheep.
Chris says the word evangelism is too strong for what he is trying to do, but he is trying to tell Bible stories in a relevant, humorous and light way to people who wouldn’t normally go to church.
Between 2005 and 2010 Chris took his show Love School to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Exploring his relationship experiences, including his years of marriage to his wife, Sophie, led to him developing the School of Life. This is his own business, where he offers his performance to sixth forms to help teenagers explore relationships. Some employ him using funding from their PHSE budgets.
The idea for LAMPS Collective came about as Chris began to see the benefits of working with others, rather than being a one-man band. Part of the journey was turning Scrooge into a two-man show while part was reflecting at Soul Survivor and New Wine on where his work should take him.
“I was in a meeting during one of the summer festivals and it was almost like the calling to write, particularly the songs and the poetry, felt very heavy suddenly. It was like that was more important than the performance, so I started to write prolifically.”
Aware of Christian friends involved in performance who were feeling unfulfilled, he was asked to do the 2013 Abingdon Passion Play, but, busy with his work at the Peachcroft Christian Centre in Abingdon, he didn’t know if he could do it. Sam Pullen-Cambell, the Director of the annual Passion Play, is now also the director for many of LAMPS Collective projects.
It was once again at a summer festival, Soul Survivor, where Chris said that he had a ‘properly God moment’ in 2014. “I was in a meeting in worship and that was when the vision for LAMPS Collective downloaded in terms of it being collaborative. It was something I needed to try to make happen.”
LAMPS Collective’s objectives are three-fold; producing resources, printed material, music and film that can be used in church, live events, performances that churches can hire the LAMPS collective to perform, and giving people opportunities to perform and serve in other ways.
When he is not busy with LAMPS Collective, Chris loves watching football. He supports Leicester City and of course Oxford City, where his son, Isaac, 17, plays.
He also loves cookery and when he left his last job, his leaving gift was classes at the Dancing Trousers Cookery School. He lives in Abingdon with his wife, Sophie, Isaac, his daughter Mercy, 18, and the family dog. In 2015 to 2016 he achieved local fame with his creation Jon Bon Jedi and the song Is There a Yoda, released to coincide with the release of The Force Awakens.
Book LAMPS Collective to perform in your area
LAMPS Collective would love to perform at your church. The repertoire includes Scrooge, a mad-cap version of A Christmas Carol, and Miss Scrooge first performed at The Unicorn Theatre, Abingdon, as well as OTT (Old Testament Tales), which is set in a Palestinian kitchen and touches on age-old themes of prejudice and discrimination whilst ensuring a lot of food for thought and hilarity of Biblical proportions! The most recent is the Easter Passion Play, performed in Abingdon in late April.
They also need people to pray for their work, support it financially and also join the local production team of volunteers. They currently need people with experience in administration, project management, IT and writing/designing marketing materials as well as practical folk to help with costumes, set etc. Supporters are called LAMPS-lighters as they help LAMPS shine a little light in a world that can often seem a bit dark.
21ST APRIL 2017